Facebook and “hate speech”

I don’t use Facebook and don’t want to use it. However, it’s the 500-pound gorilla of social networking, and as it goes, other sites are likely to go. This makes Facebook’s concessions on suppression of speech disturbing.

“Hate speech” is a term with no coherent meaning, used by pressure groups ranging from radical leftists to Islamic fundamentalists to denounce the words of others. One group demanded that Facebook “recognize speech that trivializes or glorifies violence against girls and women as hate speech and make a commitment that you will not tolerate this content.” Facebook has responded that “content that should be removed has not been or has been evaluated using outdated criteria.” The demand for non-tolerance of “trivialization” of violence is particularly alarming. If someone comments that a person has been unjustly convicted or excessively punished, the people who want blood are apt to claim that the comment trivializes the crime. Will Facebook delete pro-leniency remarks under pressure?

There’s no defense against a charge of “hate speech,” because it means whatever the accuser wants it to mean. Rationally, you’d think that it’s the people calling for harsher penalties who are motivated by hatred (which may or may not be justified, depending on the particulars). But hate speech doesn’t mean speech expressing hatred; it means speech that a pressure group hates.

Since I’ve repeatedly engaged in “hate speech” of my own about Facebook, I can’t say I’ll withdraw any further from it than I already have. I can say, though, that if other sites which I use start to create a chilling atmosphere for discussion, I’ll be less inclined to use them. These days I favor Dreamwidth and wish more people whom I know posted there. Other venues I sometimes use include special-purpose forums and mailing lists; and in spite of Andrew Cuomo’s smear campaign, Usenet hasn’t been completely killed. WordPress keeps a mostly hands-off policy with regard to blogs, as far as I can tell.

Who needs Facebook?

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